British Columbia Emergency Health Services announced the addition of three full-time paramedic positions for Castlegar this week.
Previously the Castlegar ambulance station was staffed with one full-time paramedic and a number of on-call paramedics.
The additional resources are part of an ongoing commitment by BCEHS to improve ambulance services. BCEHS also announced the addition of paramedic positions for Williams Lake, 100 Mile House, Dawson Creek and Fort St. John with the Peace River also getting two additional ambulances.
The new positions don’t mean Castlegar is getting more coverage. The staffing is converting hours currently covered by on-call paramedics into hours covered by full-time paramedics. The full-time coverage will be for seven days a week and 11 hours a day. The remaining time will still be covered by on-call staff.
Castlegar has also been selected for a part-time Community Paramedic position to be filled this spring.
“These three new full-time paramedic positions contribute to the region’s economy and support local families,” said Katrine Conroy, MLA for Kootenay West in a press release. “As well, the community paramedic position adds a new dimension to primary care in Castlegar, especially for elderly residents, and those living with chronic and complex diseases who will now be able to receive these health-care services in their homes or local clinics. These services may include wellness checks, healthy lifestyle promotion and measuring vital signs, and will support preventative health care. ”
Linda Lupini, executive vice president of BCEHS said, “These changes will help keep crews available to respond to 911 emergencies in the area. Paramedic services are increasingly needed, as part of an integrated health care system.”
Castlegar mayor Lawrence Chernoff said the city is pleased with the announcement.
“It comes after many long years of hard work and lobbying. For years, Castlegar has been under-staffed, and this has had a direct impact on the patients and citizens in the area. As a paramedic for 29 years, I understand the need to provide quality care and the importance of consistency in staffing, particularly in rural areas. We are grateful for the addition of the full-time primary care paramedic positions and we look forward to the many ways in which this serves our community now and in the years to come.”
According to the BCEHS press release, “Castlegar is among the communities identified as top priorities in the ongoing review under the BCEHS Action Plan.”
“This is a start,” said Castlegar city councillor Sue Heaton-Sherstibitoff who has been a vocal critic of the area’s ambulance coverage.
“What is missing is how are we going to address the fact that we have so many transfers from Castlegar to Trail that are tying up our ambulances?”
“It’s great we have these positions — but it doesn’t give us any more coverage to deal with the transfer issue.”
“It is great to have these positions because we are losing our part-time people to other areas where they are getting full-time work — no one can suffice on on-call wages,” she added. “Hopefully this will keep those we have working.”
She says it does not matter whether an ambulance is staffed with full time or on-call paramedics — if it is tied up with a non-urgent transfer then it is still not available for 911 calls.
“We need to free up the two ambulances we have so they can answer 911 calls.”
“It has not resolved our number one issue which is that our ambulances are not available for 911 calls when they are needed because they are busy transferring patients,” concluded Heaton-Sherstibitoff.